By Elden Freeman
Last year saw a batch of landmark environmental legislation passed all over
North America. In the summer the United States House passed the Waxman
Markey Act, and in December New York’s City Council passed a package of four
green energy bills requiring energy audits and efficiency retrofits on
buildings 50,000 square feet or larger. In Canada, Ontario passed the Green
Energy Act in May, and during the same month Toronto enacted legislation
requiring green roofs on new developments of 2,000 square metres or greater.
Amidst this rush of change, it’s not hard to see the emerging pattern:
leading jurisdictions are implementing environmental regulations in all
industries, and real estate is getting special attention.
These regulatory changes are symptomatic of a larger shift – in how we live
our lives and how we conduct business. But looking at these new regulations
and those that are bound to follow, real estate professionals shouldn’t be
focused on downside and potential liability. Instead they should be seeing
the opportunities that these changes represent. Politicians are implementing
these regulations because their constituents – buyers and sellers of real
estate – recognize the pressing importance of taking serious account of the
environmental impact of business and personal behaviour.
The Toronto green roof legislation is of particular interest to agents and
brokers. By mandating a feature that had been previously seen exclusively on
buildings that were marketed as green, or associated with environmental or
nonprofit organizations, we see the mainstreaming of green values at work.
It’s also an example of good business sense: like many other green building
improvements, green roofs are an expenditure in which the cost is earned
back in utility cost savings. Grasses and vegetation on green roofs improve
insulation in the summer and winter, reducing climate control costs. They
also minimize the heat-island effect that large buildings can suffer from in
the summer, further ameliorating air conditioning costs.
Vegetation can have a filtering effect on the air, and is more esthetically
pleasing (for buildings where the roof is visible, or where the green roof
is multi-use) than standard concrete installations. A green roof can also
decrease water runoff, which has two benefits. First, it puts less strain on
the rainwater diversion systems of a building, reducing the erosive effects
of weathering from precipitation, which can help reduce long-term
maintenance costs. Second, it reduces potentially toxic runoff into city
sewers, which reduces the volume of water and overall wear on city
infrastructure and also reduces the environmental impact of municipal waste
Toronto’s new regulations will have a strong impact on commercial real
estate, and on new condominium developments. Condos have used green roofs as
a strong selling point to more ecologically aware buyers. Developments in
Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa all prominently feature green roofs
along with other green amenities, which will likely soon be viewed as a
standard alongside facilities such as fitness centres, parking and storage.
Agents who are able to understand and strongly convey the benefits of these
features to the ecologically aware buyer have a leg up in helping their
clients find properties that are a good fit, both economically and
Single-family dwellings can also support green roofs, and many of them can
reap the same economic and ecological benefits. Finding the right contractor
and negotiating things such as how to get insurance on a green roof, are
issues that most agents, let alone homeowners, have little experience with.
The opportunity that this presents is significant, with the cost-savings
potential of investing in a green roof being substantial. But these
assessments need to be made on a case-by-case basis and that will colour how
prospective buyers view a given property. Whether on the buying or selling
side, real estate professionals who know how green roofs can be used to
improve the value and reduce the costs of home ownership have another
dimension in which they can serve their clients.
Agents and brokers who want to learn about green roofs, the implications of
changing regulations, and other green issues have a great means to do so in
The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers. NAGAB has been
partnered with leading certifying organizations, grant, benefit and
subsidy-providing government institutions, and home improvement suppliers to
equip its members with the best in green real estate skills, knowledge and
resources. Through NAGAB’s certification courses, seminars and online
learning database, the organization enables its members to keep up to date
with the best information on energy efficiency, government regulations,
potential client eligibility for government assistance, and best practices
in green real estate. For more information on how real estate professionals
can anticipate and benefit from the wave of environmental change sweeping
through the industry, visit www.nagab.org online.
Elden Freeman B.A., M.E.S, Broker is the founder and executive director of
the non-profit National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB).
(416) 536-7325; email@example.com.